ORLANDO, Fla. — If the Orlando Magic's 2010-11 season were likened to a fairy tale, it would probably be a mix of "The Wizard of Oz" and "Alice in Wonderland."
Back in December, the Magic's championship journey was detoured by a massive trade that altered their roster. Then, in the second half of the schedule, injuries, inconsistency and other growing pains left a team that made the NBA Finals two years ago feeling like it was trudging through some strange world.
Saturday night, familiarity returns as Orlando opens the playoffs against an Atlanta team it swept out of the Eastern Conference semifinals a year ago. But this time the Magic face a Hawks squad that has had their number this season.
"They got a lot of the same guys, but as far as the way they play against us, it's a lot different," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said of Atlanta, which has beaten Orlando in three out of four meetings in 2010-11.
The Hawks jettisoned point guard Mike Bibby in favor of Kirk Hinrich in a February trade with Washington. They also moved Jason Collins to center and Al Horford to power forward, allowing Horford a lot more flexibility on the offensive end.
Horford is averaging a career-best 15.3 points overall and 16.3 in the four games against Orlando. Hinrich, an off and on starter with the Wizards, has clearly found a groove in the Hawks' lineup. And though Collins' numbers haven't been great (4.5 points and 3.2 rebounds) against Orlando, by guarding Dwight Howard he has allowed Horford to avoid foul trouble.
Whether it was that adjustment or not, Howard and the Magic have suffered offensively against Atlanta.
As a team Orlando is averaging only 82.5 points per game, while shooting just 38 percent overall and 22 percent from the 3-point line. Those are all below its season averages of 99.2 points, 46 percent from the field and 36 percent from 3.
"That's not us. We want to be high 90s, low 100s," point guard Jameer Nelson said. "If we could score 200, that would be great."
Howard's individual output has also waned. After going 10 for 20 and scoring 27 points in the Nov. 8 win over Atlanta, he was held below 50 percent shooting in the final three games and shot just 43 percent overall.
Howard said turning that around isn't a complex proposition.
"The three games that they beat us in, the pace was slow and we played to their liking," Howard said. "In order to beat these guys we have to run and we have to move."
Hawks coach Larry Drew said their ball movement will be pivotal in replicating the regular- season success.
"You can't just set up. You have to attack them," Drew said. "Even though they have the most potent defensive player in the league down there in the middle, you have to attack them in the paint. You can't have a fear about him and we've done that so far."
For the first time in two months the Magic had 12 players available for their final two practices this week, and are hoping to have back reserve guard J.J. Redick. He missed the final 17 games with a lower abdominal strain and will get a final evaluation at the team's Saturday morning shootaround.
"If he can go, I'm going to go back to playing him," Van Gundy said. "It's a fairly easy decision based on what I saw today and the struggles we've had on the bench."
Nelson said that though this playoff run begins with only four players (Nelson, Howard, Redick and Hedo Turkoglu) that were on the roster for the NBA Finals run two years ago, he has plenty of confidence in this new group.
Forwards Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson were both with the team last season and new addition Jason Richardson started 16 games for Phoenix in its surge to the Western Conference Finals last year.
"It's fun. I've done it numerous times now, and on different teams in terms of personnel," Nelson said. "One thing I know is we have winners on this team . . . We're hard to beat when we play the right way."
And his response to Hawks players who reportedly took offense to his recent postgame comments to Chicago's Derrick Rose that Nelson would see him in Round 2?
"I didn't mean anything by it, but they can take it the way they want to take it," Nelson said. "... Am I supposed to tell Rose 'I'll see you next year?' I want to win the series (against Atlanta). What am I supposed to say to the guy? But they can take it how they want to take it and may the best team win."